SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The lurid implosion of a Republican Senate candidate's campaign is just the beginning of the turmoil plaguing Illinois politics, with Democrats squabbling over a budget impasse that could bring state government grinding to a halt.
"I'm trying to think if there was ever another point in time when it was just this crazy," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard. "It's pretty amazing. It's the two (stories) coupled together that has led to this chaos."
Republican Jack Ryan's (search) bid for the Senate blew apart this past week after a judge unsealed divorce records, in which his actress ex-wife, Jeri Ryan (search), accused him of taking her to sex clubs and trying to talk her into having public sex.
With Ryan trailing in polls even before the allegations became public, party leaders who pushed him to drop out of the Senate race now have to cut through rivalries to choose a replacement for an election that is just four months away.
And if state lawmakers, led by Democrats, don't pass a $54 billion budget by June 30, Illinois will have no authority to keep paying employees and providing services.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich (search) has used his authority to call lawmakers into special sessions and is trying to bring pressure on powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan to compromise on the budget.
Ryan's problems started in February, when his opponents in the Republican Senate primary called on him to release sealed records from a custody dispute with his ex-wife, who has had starring roles in "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Boston Public."
Ryan refused, saying the records involved his son and would harm the boy if released, and repeatedly assured GOP officials and the public that the files contained nothing embarrassing.
But after Ryan won the Republican nomination, a judge agreed to open the records, revealing Jeri Ryan's accusations -- which Ryan denies.
Party leaders accused him of misleading them, and comedians mocked him. Four days after the files were opened, Ryan withdrew from the race against Democratic state Sen. Barack Obama (search).
Now the party must choose a replacement, a process Republicans say could take several weeks.
"There is no panic here," party spokesman Jason Gerwig said. "You must be as thorough as possible in finding a candidate and we're taking two or three weeks to do that."
Meanwhile, the task of balancing the budget with little new money is complicated by the battle of wills among the Democratic leaders.
Democrats control the governor's office and both legislative chambers, but they have not been able to agree on how to fill a roughly $2.3 billion gap in the budget. Blagojevich and the Senate president are on one side, fighting for small tax increases and more spending on education and health care, while in the House Madigan has teamed up with Republican leaders to oppose the taxes and push for flat spending.
"I've never seen anything quite like this," said state Rep. Bill Black, a Republican. "They operate all of the machinery of state government, and it looks to me like it has completely broken down at this point.
Blagojevich has repeatedly criticized lawmakers as tools of special interests. He has questioned Madigan's commitment to education, health care and other traditional Democratic priorities, and Madigan has refused to attend some budget meetings with Blagojevich.
And when Madigan's daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, ruled against him on a budget-related issue, Blagojevich said she was simply siding with her father.
Senate President Emil Jones has occasionally suggested that Madigan is not bargaining in good faith. Jones is in his first term as Senate president, and some Statehouse veterans see him trying to emerge from the shadow of Madigan, who was first elected speaker in 1983.
"The ship of state is rudderless and drifting in circles off the coast of somewhere. And I look up at the bridge and I see three people arguing over who's the captain," Black said. "Who is the captain of the ship of state? And when might we get an itinerary?"